Magazine article The Spectator

Will Italy, the Sick Man of Europe, Dare to Follow Us Out?

Magazine article The Spectator

Will Italy, the Sick Man of Europe, Dare to Follow Us Out?

Article excerpt

Will Italy, the sick man of Europe, dare to follow us out?

In Italy, media coverage of the triumph of Brexit has been wall-to-wall as Italians worry about the collateral damage and wonder if they too dare...

So far La bomba Britannica has hit the Milan stock market much harder than the London one. On Friday, Milan fell by 12 per cent against the FTSE-100's 3.5 per cent.

Italy's banks -- too numerous, too small, undercapitalised and saddled with alarming levels of toxic debt -- took the biggest hit. New eurozone rules that ban government bailouts for big depositors have turned them into sitting ducks. Shares in Monte Paschi di Siena (bailed out once already in 2013 by Italy's central bank) fell by more than 13 per cent. In the past six months, Italy's banks have lost 56 per cent of their share value.

But there was good news for Italian clam fishermen and restaurants specialising in spaghetti con le vongole: at long last the European Commission has agreed to increase the permitted minimum size of vongole by 3mm to 25mm.

But the economic situation in Italy at the dark heart of the eurozone remains bleak and the urge to get the heck out grows. As the front-page splash of the anti-EU Libero newspaper proclaimed last Friday: 'May God Pour Profuse Blessings On the English: the great democracy on the other side of the Channel teaches the whole Continent how it should treat its citizens.'

That is a pro-British rewriting of the exhortation of the second world war fascist propagandist Mario Appelius, who ended each transmission by telling listeners: 'Dio stramaledica gli inglesi .' (Let God Pour Profuse Curses on the English.')

As Libero editor Vittorio Feltri commented: 'It's written in the history books and also in the news: the only true functioning democracy is the English one... The United Kingdom has provided proof for the umpteenth time that it believes in the will of the people and that it knows how to respect it with elegance.'

Since the great banking crash of 2007 - 08 there has been a slow-motion volte-face in the Italian attitude to the euro and the EU. According to an Ipsos-Mori poll in May, the Italians are now the most hostile to the EU after the British: 48 per cent of them would vote to take Italy out of the EU in a referendum, compared with 41 per cent of the French and 34 per cent of the Germans. Italians used to be among the most Europhile people in the EU. They were much more relaxed about being governed from abroad; perhaps not surprising given their own track record. Since the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini fell from power, Italians have lived under 63 governments whose insatiable appetite for political corruption would shock the Devil himself. So they sleep-walked into the single currency and handed over monetary sovereignty to the Fourth Reich -- I do beg your pardon -- to the EU.

But when the lira was replaced by the euro, Italians kissed goodbye to la dolce vita .Prices went through the roof while wages remained static, and the economy stagnated until it went into recession after the global crash. Silvio Berlusconi, the media tycoon, who was forced to resign in 2011 after a coup orchestrated by Brussels and Berlin, was Italy's last elected prime minister. Since then there have been three.

Not surprisingly the Italians are nowadays very angry about being members of a eurozone which has deprived them of the power to devalue or set interest rates, and which, whether deliberately or not, benefits no one but the Germans. …

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